Last night, as I was having my second serving of dessert at a board dinner in New York City, the 37 year-old COO of the company asked me how I could eat as much as I do and stay fit. I told him that it was much easier for me at 47 than it was at 37. Counterintuitive, right? I asked him how old his kids are (2 & 6) and how much he travels (often). He said he seems to carry an extra 10-15 lbs that feels impossible to shed. I explained that at 37, I had the same issues. My kids were 3 & 4, I traveled a ton, and I was in the first couple of years of starting Highway 12 Ventures. Instead of the 150-155 I weigh these days, it was impossible for me to get out of the 165-170 range back then. I see pictures of myself from that time period now and can’t believe it was the same person.
Fact is, if your kids are under 10 years old and you have a demanding job (exacerbated by travel and the nutrition challenges that go along with business travel), I think it’s extremely difficult to be be great at your job, be a great spouse and parent, and maintain the level of fitness that we all dream about. That’s a three-legged stool that’s really difficult to manage and you’re probably not going to do a stellar job at one of those. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing people who are able to accomplish it. My friend Seth Levine at Foundry comes to mind. Amazing parent to young kids and a terrific husband, incredibly bright and successful and fit as a fiddle. For most of us however, we chose fitness as the weak link and I believe that’s the right move at that stage of your life. However, there’s a few things I’ve learned over the last decade which would have helped me feel better at 37 than I did:
- When you travel, whatever you do, exercise in the morning. 30 minutes on the crappy elliptical or bike in the hotel is better than nothing. No excuses. You’ll feel better.
- I love ice cream and eat it almost every night. However, I’ve made it a rule that I won’t eat dessert if I didn’t exercise that day. Period.
- I really didn’t understand how the makeup of today’s bread affects the body. I’ve largely eliminated it from my diet. If you eat a lot of bread, do your research. Nothing has had a bigger impact on keeping weight off for me than this.
I can go on with more suggestions but there’s mountains of advice on this subject and I’m not Tim Ferris. I really believe if you simply commit to these three things, you’ll see a huge difference. The fourth and most important piece of advice I have is this: Lose the guilt. Being a great parent and spouse is the most important thing your can do for yourself and will increase your happiness more than anything else. Don’t skimp there. Job and fitness come next. You have to choose which you want to be better at. If we’re intellectually honest with ourselves, there aren’t enough hours in the day to excel in all three areas. Carrying around an extra 5-10 lbs isn’t the end of the world. Working out for 45 minutes on Saturday morning and seeing your kids soccer game vs. the epic four hour bike ride with your pals should be an easy decision. If you must do the four hour ride, wake up earlier. Before you know it, your four year-old will be 14 and you’ll know what I mean.
Now that I’ve built some real discipline around nutrition and my kids are teenagers and are embarking on their own lives, I’ve been able to focus more on fitness. In fact, at 47 I’m in the best shape of my life and ran an ultra-marathon this past fall. But I’ve got to be honest: I loved having young kids and I just can’t believe how fleeting it is. I miss scooping them up and holding them and the feel of their skin on mine. I’m glad I chose family and job as my priorities when the kids were young. I can’t remember the extra 10 pounds I carried around but feel like the investments I made in my family and career back then were the right choice for me. If you’re in your 30’s, have young kids, a challenging career and are able to maintain a high level of fitness, please share your hints liberally…